We've all been there. A watch that catches the eye, a final piece in the jigsaw of a collection, one that quickly goes from a "wouldn't that be nice" to a "how can i go on without it". And then begins the long, slow process of justification which leads to bargaining and, inevitably, a new acquisition, or a painful compromise. What rarely happens is that one presented with an irrefutably compelling economic reason to 'invest' in a watch. I've used the term myself on occasion, 'investment' but I've rarely meant it as anything more than promise that a watch won't lose much, if any value. But how times change.
I've driven more than one new car out of a showroom, with a tiny voice in the far distance crying at the depreciation the mere act of departure ensures. I used to feel similarly about the purchase of a watch but now i find myself in the somewhat enviable position of owning a collection for which the word 'appreciation' means much more than a simple emotional response. For in recent year the stories of watches increasing in value, proportional to their scarcity, have been numerous. Where once you might have bargained with a loved one to allow for what seemed to be an indulgence, nowadays it is possible to make a very strong economic argument that a watch can be a genuine investment. Even mid range swiss watches have increased in value and almost no genuine collector is oblivious to the fact that a Rolex Daytona of almost any age can change hands for 'what someone is prepared to pay, to get one'.
Central to this concept is the scarcity value of an item and the inherent demand this can create. And this is where I have found a vintage collection can be particularly sensitive to price inflation. If i'm honest i would now say that as much as 30% of enquiries relate not only to the quality and provenance of a pieces, but also the potential investment opportunities presented by them.
All of which begs the question, 'well, why not?' For there are some compelling reasons to think of a vintage watch as an investment.
- They aren't making them anymore (self evidently) and they are only likely to become more scarce as a result, which is a great big boost to appreciation.
- The value profile of a watch is pretty well established after 20-30 years (the point at which a watch might be considered vintage) so it's far less risky in determining its likely appeal in the future.
- Unlike new watches, the depreciation of purchase has already had a bite out of the price, so assuming you shop around you are probably going to get a watch at a real price and not a retail inflated price
- The trend for vintage has exploded in recent years and shows no sign of abating
But ultimately, for me, if you are going to think about investing in an asset with a near flawless appreciation profile, why not make it something from which you can also gain an immense amount of pleasure? (I'd still always recommend that as a prime reason for purchase). For me it makes perfect sense so, unlike some other dealers, when asked about the potential appreciation of a particular watch, i'll give you the most honest view I can and won't sniffly decline to even discuss it. That doesn't mean, of course that every single watch offers a guarantee of a generous return, but consider a 1915 trench watch in immaculate condition or a box find 1971 Omega Speedmaster from the moon landing era and ask yourself if those are worth ten or a hundred times the original price today, how much might they be worth in the future? For me, its the perfect blend of indulgence and prudence. It might not have started out that way but it most certainly helps now in the bargaining stage!
The Watch Collector